Microlearning Dos and Don’ts for a Successful Implementation

Jill W.

Yes, our attention spans seem to be shortening and, yes, microlearning is one solution that can be used in corporate training to capture learners' attention. However, like all learning solutions, it needs to be used in the right cases.

"The true scarce commodity of the near future will be human attention" - Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft

Think about how often you check your email, read a text message, or check your Facebook profile. It shouldn't surprise you that our attention spans are decreasing. According to a 2016 study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span of respondents was approximately 8 seconds, 5 seconds slower than findings from a similar study that was conducted in 2000, and 1 second slower than a goldfish!

What are the implications of these findings on learning in corporate environments? For one, training programs need to be delivered in short, bite-sized nuggets (otherwise known as microlearning) because employees don't have the time or attention span to sit through long, drawn out training sessions.

This article will explore the different applications of microlearning, as well as the dos and don'ts that will help you build microlearning-based training. But first, let's look at what microlearning is not.

What is Not Microlearning?

We all know that microlearning is a way of delivering content to learners in short and focused learning segments, but there are some misconceptions. Microlearning is not about breaking down a 10-hour training course into smaller pieces. It's an action-oriented approach of offering bite-sized learning that gets learners to engage with your content. According to Sharon Boller, there are three situations, for which microlearning should not be a solution:

  1. When you need to build a depth of knowledge or skill rather than raise awareness. If you want people to be experts, they need the time and practice to build expertise.
  2. When you need to move people from novice to fluency on a topic in a relatively short period. Learning in-depth industry or product knowledge, for example, is hard to do in 5 minutes. Imagine trying to learn about instructional design in that time frame.
  3. When your goal is to foster long-term retention needs. Microlearning is helpful for repetition, but it's not a one-and-done solution if your learners need to transfer that information back into their day-to-day work activities, or retain that information for a long period of time.

As with other forms of education -such as classroom and eLearning - you should be careful about focusing too much on seat time. Instead, you should ask how long it will take to teach the most critical parts of the concept. The bottom line is that learners need relevant practice and timely feedback; they cannot multitask and have the same deep learning experience, and reading something in a micro-lesson is not the same thing as learning.

Impact of Microlearning

There are several benefits to microlearning. It is learner-centric, just-in-time, and accessible, meaning that content is appealing to learners (it empowers them, and gives them greater control over the completion of their learning paths), and learning becomes available anywhere anytime. Consequently, these characteristics positively impact completion rates as well as learner engagement.

A study was published on the significance of microlearning in the education industry. The results of a questionnaire distributed to 91 respondents showed that microlearning positively transforms knowledge, and specifically strengthens knowledge inputs, processes, curriculum, form, time and learning type. In other words, there is value in adopting this approach at the corporate learning level.

Applications of Microlearning in Corporate Training

Keeping the guidelines identified above in mind, microlearning can be used for various corporate training needs, including:

  • Formal training - Employees are on-the-go and often prefer solutions that can be applied directly to their jobs. Providing short, video-based simulations, for example, provides employees with a tool they can use when undertaking job-specific tasks.
  • Onboarding new employees - New hires are often overwhelmed with the amount of information they are required to know about their new job. Through microlearning, you can cover many topics without requiring the learner to sit through hours and hours of orientation training. Ayesha Habeeb Omer suggests that microlearning for new hire training is useful to introduce new hires to the office, deliver a welcome speech by the CEO, provide bite-sized modules to familiarize new employees with corporate jargon, and train new employees on their job roles and responsibilities.
  • Supplementing or reinforcing formal training (pre- and post-) - In some cases, you need employees to have a certain knowledge base before they attend a formal training session. You can provide them with short bursts of information, which will help them prepare for their training. Post-training "refresher content" can be provide to help remind participants of what they learned, or this information can be consulted by employees when they have a question about a particular topic.
  • As performance support tools - Having a bank of information available to employees is beneficial when they encounter an challenge or have a question. It becomes convenient for them to search quick videos, or quick links when they need an issue resolved, rather than having to wait until a formal training session is scheduled.

As Peter Exner has identified, microlearning can also be quite useful in delivering training on:

  • Languages
  • Simple procedures
  • Best practices
  • Software applications
  • Compliance training

Dos and Don'ts of Microlearning

Now that you know what microlearning is not, and some of its applications, let's take a look at some of the dos and don'ts you can apply when building your own microlearning program.

Don't: Break a long course into smaller modules just for the sake of delivering micro-lessons.

Do: Identify learning objectives and map out content.

As you plan your microlearning program, ask yourself:

  • Is the learning need specific and not too complex? Complex learning topics are not suited to microlearning.
  • Can the learning objectives be met in a short time or in one glance? If your learning objectives are too in-depth, if there is too much content for learners to process, microlearning probably isn't your best solution. It's best practice to separate each learning objective into a single piece of content. For example, if your training course has four objectives, each objective can be built into a separate microlearning module.
  • Can you filter out the redundant or unnecessary content and retain only the need-to-know information? This is something that you should consider, regardless of how you are delivering your training. Redundant content distracts learners from what they need to learn to be successful in their jobs.

Don't: Think everyone has the resources and tools to access your content.

Do: Understand your target audience.

You want to know who your audience is to ensure that they can consume what you develop. Do they have the tools and resources to enroll in and follow a microlearning program? The millennial worker, who now makes up the largest segment of the workforce is looking for flexible, fun and quick learning solutions and microlearning can help because offering bite-sized learning allows learners to digest a small amount of information at a time.

For example, if you are offering short video segments, can learners access these on their phone as they commute to work? According to the findings of the 2015 Asia-Pacific Skillsoft survey, 72 percent of the participants reported increased engagement with mobile learning. It is therefore important to embrace mobile technologies. It is also important to consider whether your audience has been subjected to microlearning content in the past because this will tell you how comfortable they are with microlearning solutions.

Another option is to delivery your training through a blended learning approach. Most learners have unique learning styles and a blended approach is more likely to cater to those needs than a traditional classroom experience. Therefore, microlearning fits nicely into this approach.

Microlearning shouldn't be used on its own, rather it should be integrated into a larger learning program plan. Take a look at the plan outlined by Joelyne Marshall.

Sample Overall Learning Plan


Source: Caveo Learning

It is important to remember that a single microlearning event is almost always part of a much larger learning program. In the example above, microlearning is used to support formalized eLearning courses, however, they could also be used as introduction content pieces prior to completing required eLearning courses.

Don't: Create something that's too fancy.

Do: Engage your learners.

Just because you are presenting information in shorter segments, doesn't mean that you can't still engage them. You just need to do it in a way that's not too fancy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Employ gamification strategies. Consider incorporating completion points, leaderboards, and open badges.
  • Personalize your content based on your learners' preferences and provide different options for learners such as short videos, interactive videos, PDFs, simulations, eLearning courses, etc.
  • Ensure that your content is responsive and compatible with mobile technologies.
  • Take advantage of techniques such as spaced repetition, where content is shown to learners at specific intervals that enhance its retention.
  • Focus only on the content the learner needs within a given microlearning element. Don't complicate a module by added extraneous content. Remember, you want 'need to know' content, not 'want to know' content.


Yes, our attention spans seem to be shortening and, yes, microlearning is one solution that can be used in corporate training to capture learners' attention. However, like all learning solutions, it needs to be used in the right cases.

This article talked about the different applications of microlearning, and provided you with some dos and don'ts that will help you build micro-lessons.

Do you want to incorporate microlearning into your organization, or are you looking for an LMS that supports microlearning? Create your own portal today!

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.